Newsletter of the Foundation of the State Arboretum                 Winter 2019-2020
Mark Your Calendar
Learn from the 
Lanternfly Experts
Blandy Experimental Farm Library
Wednesday, March 11 | 7 - 8:30 p.m. 

Spotted lanternfly, arguably the worst invasive insect to enter Virginia in 150 years, has spread from Frederick County to Clarke. It has the potential to threaten agricultural crops, forests, and home landscapes throughout Virginia. Learn how to identify, report sightings, and slow the spread of this terrible new pest. Find out how to prevent invasion by eliminating lanternfly's favorite host tree, the equally invasive tree of heaven ( Ailanthus altissima).

Presented by Sustainability Matters, Virginia Cooperative Extension, United States Department of Agriculture, and Virginia Department of Forestry.

Space is limited and registration is required. 
$5 SM & FOSA members, $10 nonmembers
Delaware Dept. of Conservation
Bad Bugs and Bad Trees
Is This Pair a Match Made in (Tree of) Heaven?
By T'ai Roulston
Arboretum Curator
You've likely heard of spotted lanternflies by now -- the newest exotic pest to threaten U.S. agriculture. First detected in Pennsylvania in 2014, they are now confirmed in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts and now Virginia,  including Clarke County.  (We have yet to detect them in the Arboretum, but we're on the lookout). As adult insects in autumn, they are not subtle: These inch-long bulbous beasts, sporting black polka dots on pinkish-gray wings, cluster on plant stems by the hundreds.They have spread quickly and caused governments to quarantine merchandise moving in and out of infested areas. Frederick County, just to our west, and Winchester have had such a quarantine in place since May 2019. 

My goal here is not to repeat all the information you can find through university extension offices. Instead, I want to explain two common things we hear about spotted lanternfly biology that individually are straightforward but when put together seem puzzling. 

Click for more resources.
First, spotted lanternflies are broad generalists. They are known to feed on more than 70 species of plants, including economically important crops, making them a widespread threat to agriculture. They have already caused substantial damage to grapes in the U.S. and are known pests of apples, peaches, and hops as well.

The other thing you may have heard is that spotted lanternflies strongly prefer the invasive tree of heaven ( Ailanthus altissima). In fact, they prefer this tree so much that the main control strategy for spotted lanternflies is a combination of removing most tree of heaven nurse trees while treating the remaining ones with systemic pesticides to kill the spotted lanternflies that find them.

So, are spotted lanternflies generalists that are primed to cut a broad swath through our crops, street trees and native plants, or are they specialists that mainly attack a noxious weed tree we'd like to kill anyway? Apparently both, but how does that work? 

Richard Gardner,
In late spring,  lanternfly eggs hatch  into wingless black and white insects that crawl to a nearby plant and start sucking the sap out of plant stems. At this stage, they have a broad diet and can be found on many different kinds of plants. They continue to feed on a variety of plants through their first three molts (until July) but become much choosier as they reach the fourth growth stage (fourth instar). At this point, they become bright red, and show a strong preference for tree of heaven. What happens if they can't find tree of heaven? They look for other plants and eat them instead. 

In our region, the next favorites seem to be black walnuts, maples, willows and grapes, which they can feed on abundantly in later developmental stages. How well they do on these other hosts, however, is not entirely clear. It is challenging to monitor the entire life cycle of spotted lanternfly to associate feeding choices with reproductive outcomes. As yet, no one can rear the pest from egg to adult to egg again in the laboratory to score success, so much detail awaits that breakthrough. But a recent study suggests an intriguing way in which tree of heaven, even if not required for development, could greatly improve spotted lanternfly performance and support larger populations.

Richard Gardner,
Soorim Song at the University of California-Berkeley, along with colleagues in South Korea and Poland, studied the effects of host plant choice (tree of heaven versus willow) on the palatability of spotted lanternflies to Korean insectivorous birds in 2018 ( Scientific Reports #8, article 16831). Birds are often major predators of plant-feeding insects, so dense aggregations of large, slow-moving insects are likely to attract attention. The authors wondered if it was more than coincidental that spotted lanternflies shift from a broad to a narrow diet at the same time that the insect's coloring changes from an inconspicuous black and white to a very conspicuous bright red. Tree of heaven is known to contain toxic defensive compounds called quassinoids, and red coloration in insects is often associated with toxicity, so maybe spotted lanternflies were advertising their unpalatability to birds. The birds might sample one, have a bad experience, and remember to avoid the red things on the tree next time. 

The authors carried out three experiments to test whether spotted lanternflies become unpalatable by feeding on tree of heaven, all using the omnivorous bird  Parus minor (Oriental tit). First they showed that margarine balls (a bird treat) were less likely to be eaten by wild birds if they contained ground-up spotted lanternflies reared on tree of heaven. This shows the birds don't care for typical spotted lanternflies, at least with their margarine, but not that the effect is mediated by tree of heaven. Next, they worked with hand-reared birds that had never tasted spotted lanternflies and showed that these birds also preferred pure margarine, but that they were more deterred by spotted lanternflies reared on tree of heaven than those reared on Korean willow. They concluded that something in tree of heaven makes the insects less susceptible to bird predation. 

Finally, they showed that one compound in tree of heaven (ailanthone), if applied to sunflower seeds at bird feeders, deterred wild birds from visiting those feeders. In this way, even if it turns out that tree of heaven is unnecessary for spotted lanternfly development, the choice of host plants may leave them more -- or less -- susceptible to predators. 

At present, no one knows the palatability of spotted lanternflies reared on other plants when offered to North American birds. Let us hope our birds like them. And let us really hope that grape vines and hops plants produce especially tasty bugs that birds devour.
Look What's Coming Up at Your State Arboretum
Seed Exchange at Blandy
Saturday, Jan. 25 | 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
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If you're a home garden seed saver or have some extra commercially grown seeds left from last year's planting, bring them to the Seed Exchange at Blandy. Gardeners are always happy to share their knowledge and harvest with others. Even if you don't have seeds to share, please join us anyway and go home with up to five packets of seeds.
Eco-Art: Nature's Creativity
Saturday, Feb. 8 | 2-4 p.m.
Make beautiful seeded paper 
that will return to the earth, turning your words into flowers. Then stencil nature designs onto reusable bags for books or groceries, and make and leave in place a beautiful, outdoor, biodegradable work of art. 

$10 FOSA members $15 nonmembers
$20 member family $25 nonmember family
For the whole family
Neil Myers
Multi-talented Myers Named  FOSA Volunteer of the Year
C ongratulations to Neil Myers, FOSA's Volunteer of the Year! Neil has been a volunteer since 2016. She has spent most of her time working on the Native Plant Trail every Wednesday during the gardening season. Neil volunteered to manage the "Native Plant Trailers" Facebook page, which is filled with wonderful photographs and information on their projects. Neil also helps with public programs and leads tours from time to time. She does a great job and is always informative and friendly! We are so lucky to have Neil as a big part of our Blandy family.  Congratulations, Neil! We love you!
Teachers made comparative graphs of snake lengths.

Education Team Shares Resources at State Conference
Blandy Programs  Highlight  Professional Development Workshops 
By Emily M. Ford
Lead Environmental Educator
Each November, the Virginia Association of Science Teachers (VAST) holds a professional development institute where classroom teachers, informal science educators, administrators, and other science education enthusiasts share and learn from one another through a variety of presentations, workshops, and talks. This year's conference in Roanoke was themed "STEM starts with Science." STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM education integrates these disciplines, supports hands-on experiences, and provides opportunities for students for "real world" knowledge in the classroom. The Blandy education team (Candace, Emily, Lil, and Leah) presented three workshop sessions, each highlighting a lesson we developed to engage students and teachers in hands-on, interdisciplinary, science-based learning.

Various maps were used to determine what surfaces are pervious and impervious.
"Schoolyard Surfaces: An Interdisciplinary Land-Based MWEE" showcased an activity to be used as a launch point for watershed science education. The lesson integrates mathematics and scientific evaluation of how water moves in and around schoolyards, analyzing pervious and impervious surfaces. It also provides an opportunity to meet watershed education goals without the need for a body of water, and opens the door to engineering action projects.

Teachers designed, engineered, and tested roof models in the "Designing Solutions: Using Roof Models to Explore Run-off" session. This hands-on activity combines science, math, and engineering to help students comprehend the impacts of surface water run-off from a roof and onto the ground. Participants designed roofs to lessen the impacts of roof runoff and erosion.

In the "Exploring Virginia's Snakes Using Non-Fiction & Mathematics" session at VAST, participants use a non-fiction text ( A Guide to the Snakes and Lizards of Virginia from  the  Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries ) to research native snake species, and then deepen their understanding of measurement and graphing, all while expanding perceptions of misunderstood organisms.

Blandy educators enjoy sharing this unique resource with fellow educators. They always receive valuable feedback and ideas for improvement, ways to reach different learners, and get inspired to create a new activity based on learners' needs.

This winter, the Blandy team is excited about these upcoming opportunities to learn from and with teachers:
  • Leading a workshop at a National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) conference in Seattle
  • Showcasing several of our hands-on activities at the annual Virginia Association for Environmental Education conference at Sweet Briar College
  • Presenting a session on incorporating systems thinking at the NSTA conference in Boston
Participants tested roof models to watch for evidence of erosion.
Michael Bowers: A Tribute
Past Director, Research Professor Left Imprint on Blandy
By Dave Carr
Director, Blandy Experimental Farm
We received sad and unexpected news last month. Michael Bowers, Blandy Director from 1997-2004, passed away on 31 October 2019 at the age of 65 after a brief illness. The Blandy family will be forever grateful for everything he accomplished during his time here.

Michael Bowers
Michael was part of Blandy's rebirth when he arrived in 1985. He was hired as Research Coordinator and as a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences. Along with Blandy's Director, Ed Connor, and Curator, Chris Sacchi, Michael worked to restart vigorous research and student training programs after two decades of quiescence. Graduate students returned, National Science Foundation funding for the Research Experience for Undergraduates program was secured, and even courses were taught. During his time at Blandy, Michael earned an international reputation for the pioneering experiments on habitat fragmentation that he conducted at Blandy. The students who earned their Ph.D. with Michael are now successful professors themselves.

Michael became Blandy's Director in 1997, and over the next seven years he set Blandy on a course that it has  essentially   followed ever since. Understanding the environment became the unifying mission of Blandy and the guiding principle behind the further development of the research program, outreach programs, and the Arboretum. He identified areas where we needed growth in personnel and infrastructure. Although not everything he envisioned was realized before he moved to the USDA in 2004, much of it has been since. The lab, the greenhouse, the Research Village, and staff expansions were all a part of the plan.

FOSA members and Blandy staff from that era remember Michael as an inspirational and engaging man. I personally found him to be a role model. I know it was hard for Michael to leave Blandy after putting so much of his heart into it for nearly 20 years. He loved the relationships he built here. I ran into him most years at the Ecological Society of America's annual meeting, where he would attend as a USDA representative for the grant programs that he oversaw. He seemed excited about his new challenges, but he was always interested to hear about Blandy's progress.

Our hearts go out to his family, and we pledge to honor his memory by making Blandy the best it can be.
Michael Bowers along with Gerald Crowell of the Va. Dept. of Forestry and then-Curator Chris Sacchi.

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